Back in 2007 I met Dr Kate Evans of the Elephants For Africa Trust (EFA) at the Bristol Festival Of Nature. We got talking and as a result of our conversation I was invited out to see their research work in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Can you imagine how delighted I was to be asked?
This wasn't just a 'jolly', we had an aim in mind... during my time there I would gather reference and experience the landscapes and wildlife first-hand with the view to holding an exhibition of paintings done as a result of the trip to raise awareness and funds for their invaluable work.
The EFA’s research centres on young bull elephants. They study their progress and behaviour within bull society from the time they leave the natal herd (a female led and based life) finding their feet and treading carefully around the mature breeding bulls in a male based life until finally they are at breeding age too. This side of African elephant social structure and behaviour is much less studied than the matriarchal side of their society of the females. The results of their research will enable conservation bodies, governments and wildlife management to better assess the needs of the full scope of elephant conservation.
It has been a struggle to save for and attempts to get funding failed several times and at times I felt it was never going to happen. But Dr Evans was very kind and understanding and kept the window of opportunity open for me until, at last, things gradually all came together in the latter half of 2010. So now I am at the point where flights are booked and I leave at the beginning of March for a month long trip to Botswana. Can you sense me smiling like the Cheshire Cat?
In getting me to this point I'd like to thank my family and friends for their encouragement and financial support; Bristol Zoo Gardens for awarding me a good sum of money towards my flights through their Staff Development Fund; the camp management where I shall be staying for their generosity, Dr Kate Evans for her patience and the invitation and my best friend’s Dad, Mr Askew, for commissioning me to paint for him… of course, it had to be…. elephants. Without all their help it would be have been a few more years before I could afford to go, if at all. So a huge thanks from me to them.
So come March I shall be flying out to Johannesburg, then on to Maun in Botswana where I shall stay in a camp just outside of the town for two nights. Then I shall get a plane up to the camp in the Delta and stay in Heaven for some weeks.
Towards the end of my stay, the plan is to visit a local community where I can get the children drawing and painting, which should be great fun as apparently they've not done much of that before.
Then I fly home at the end of March to start Phase Two of the project.. working towards the exhibition. I’ve already got lots of ideas for paintings… and I’m sure I shall come back brimming over with many more.
I hope to be able to set my little laptop up with internet access so that I can post a few reports of my adventures for you from the Delta… but as yet that’s still to be worked out.
This trip and project is a dream come true for me. Firstly to be in Africa in one place for a decent length of time; not just a few days before dashing onto another camp/park/town. I really feel I would gain so much more from being able to 'settle' for a few weeks and get a better understanding of the landscape, to see the same places on different days in differing light and weather and how the animals move through and use it.
Also.. this project is directly involved with wildlife conservation. I have supported various conservation bodies/projects over the years, but it has always been 'at a distance'. This trip will give me the chance to see conservation research first-hand, spend time with the dedicated folks who carry out the research and make it their lives. To tap at least a fraction of their combined knowledge is an opportunity I savour.
And finally the end result will be an exhibition, with lots of interest and sales (hopefully) of the paintings (the proceeds of which I shall share with the EFA Charity) and to bring their good work, wildlife and beautiful Delta to the attention of a few more folk back here in the UK.